I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern in my last few meetings. Agency leaders don’t talk to each other. They chat, they discuss business, they make plans…
…they hire & fire, they have meetings, they win & lose pitches, they drink together. Frankly, most of them seem to get on. But very few of them seem to talk – really talk – to each other.
This recently occurred to me when I was interrogating a business plan with a pair of founders. These guys had a plan which they had developed together: build on their success, drive growth, sell. But one founder kept talking about “three years”, the other “four to five”.
This lack of alignment was evident in the plan: it was missing a clear direction; it was a little woolly; the end game was not laser-focused. I explored a little more and it became evident that they had quite different personal agendas. One was under pressure at home to get ‘the big payday’, the other was thinking about his career progression post-sale. They had the same broad aim, but starkly different ambitions – and it was evident in their planning. Most striking was that it hadn’t occurred to either to really explore these fundamental assumptions with each other. They speak all day, every day, but they really hadn’t talked. When you are moving from A to B at velocity, everyone needs to be really clear about where (and what) B is.
I was in a meeting the following day with a more mature business. It was just me and the CEO. He knew what the plan was. Build on a decade of success, drive growth without sacrificing margin and sell. “Three years. 36 months. The clock’s ticking Andy!”. It was an impressive and well-constructed plan. There were challenges, but nothing we haven’t seen before and nothing the leadership team weren’t prepared to address.
I bumped into the MD on the way out. He’s a relative newbie compared to the CEO. He asked me for my view on the plan. I explained that I was optimistic about a sale within their timeframe. He laughed. “Our timeframe? You’re kidding”. It transpires that the MD’s ambition was to continue to build the brand, perhaps make some acquisitions, but everyone had lined up behind the CEO because they know that after all these years he wants his payday. The absence of a real conversation meant that options that might have suited more of the team had quickly been shelved.
And yesterday evening, I had a call with a partner in an agency which moved rapidly from a chat about pricing to a long, heartfelt unburdening about how the business was hobbled by the attitude of the other partner. It was clearly a real issue for the business, so I asked if they had spoken about it. Have you really talked? “God no. He’s really sensitive about this stuff”. So this brilliant, charismatic agency leader was prepared to see their business under-perform because of the fear of what an honest and open conversation might unleash.
I’m sure you recognise some of these scenarios. We all do it to a greater or lesser extent. So how can you stop this happening in your business?
Here are five tips to help you get talking:
1.Listen. A smart person knows how to talk. A wise person knows when to be silent. There’s no value in someone sharing if it’s not being heard.
2.You don’t know what they are thinking. I promise – you don’t. You will be amazed what you find out when you stop being a mind reader.
3.We’re people first. Business people second. Personal trumps business every time. Take the time to find out what is really going on at home with your partners.
4.Call in the experts. It’s incredibly hard to open up. It’s harder to be honest, particularly with yourself. There’s no shame in asking for help.
5.Peel back the layers. Get over your frustrations and try to find out what’s driving the person. Their behaviour is just a consequence of their thinking.
One final thought from Joyce Rachelle “if I don’t talk about it, it’s either very displeasing or very precious to me.”